A Texas man has been left partially blind in one eye after being scratched by his pet cat.
The 47-year-old, whose name was not disclosed, was infected with a bacteria that caused an inflammation of the optic nerve, which led to vision loss.
His illness with headaches and fever started a few weeks after the kitten was adopted, which caused him to contract covid. But when he suddenly lost sight in part of his left eye while driving, he was rushed to the emergency room.
Doctors there diagnosed him with cat scratch disease, caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae that cats can catch from fleas. He was given a dose of antibiotics and the disease receded and his eyesight returned to normal.
A man lost vision in one eye after his adopted pet cat scratched him (stock photo)
Cat scratch disease, also known as scratch fever or scratch disease, affects about 12,000 Americans each year according to the Cleveland Clinic.
About 40 percent of cats carry the bacteria that causes it at least once during their lives, usually picked up from fleas, but they rarely show symptoms.
However, humans can pick up the bacteria after being scratched and become sick three to 14 days later, experiencing symptoms including swelling, fever, vision loss, and fatigue. In rare cases, it can leave a man struggling to get an erection.
Vision loss occurs in about 1 to 2% of cases, when an infection leads to retinitis nervosa, or inflammation of the optic nerve, which results in a vision disorder. It usually resolves after treatment, but in some cases it can leave patients permanently blind.
Doctors believe that the bacteria can travel to the optic nerve via the bloodstream, where it then infects the cells lining the blood vessels within the nerve – causing inflammation.
The case was revealed this month in American Journal of Case Reports.
The man initially thought his symptoms – including fever, night sweats and headaches – were due to a resurgence of a Covid infection he had encountered a month earlier.
He started taking ibuprofen to reduce his symptoms.
But after repeatedly testing negative for Covid, he went to his doctor who suggested he might have ‘post-Covid syndrome’, also known as Long Covid.
He was sent home to Galveston, just outside of Houston.
But on the way back he had a “sudden” loss of vision in his left eye, as he stopped seeing in the lower quadrant of his field of vision near his nose.
The patient was rushed to the nearest emergency room where he was admitted to the ophthalmology unit.
Medics initially feared his symptoms were a warning sign of meningitis when there is inflammation of the fluid and membranes of the spinal cord.
But after the man mentioned that he had adopted a cat two months earlier that had scratched him “frequently,” they suspected he was indeed suffering from cat scratch disease.
Tests confirmed that he had been infected with Bartonella henselae.
He also showed that the vision in his left eye had been reduced to 20/100, meaning he needed to be 20 feet away from something to see what someone 100 feet away would see.
He was prescribed a six-week course of antibiotics and released from the hospital.
At the follow-up visit, the patient said his headaches and fever were gone. Vision in his left eye also recovered to 20/30, or near normal 20/20 vision range.
‘It is important to keep Bartonella infection in the differential diagnosis when a patient presents with fever and visual changes,’ said Dr. Rania Saxena, MD, a physician at the University of North Texas Center at Forth Worth, who led the report.
(This is because) Bartonella can cause painless vision loss and is the leading cause of infectious retinitis.
“Early recognition and treatment of this condition are essential to prevent vision loss and shorten recovery time.”
It was not clear what kind of temperament the man’s cat had, or whether he abandoned it after a bout of illness.
What is cat scratch disease?
Cat scratch disease, also known as scratch fever or cork disease, occurs when the bacterium Bartonella henselli causes disease in humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 40 percent of cats are infected with the bacteria at least once in their lives, which they pick up from flea bites. It is most common in cats.
It can then be transmitted to humans via scratches.
About 12,000 people in the United States develop cat scratch disease each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The disease rarely causes symptoms in cats. But in humans, it can trigger symptoms about three to 14 days after infection. These include:
- A red, swollen area around the scratch with pus.
- Poor appetite.
In rare cases, it can also cause inflammation of the internal organs causing problems including vision loss and behavior changes.
Once diagnosed, the disease is treated with a course of antibiotics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that to prevent infection, people should do the following:
- Wash cat bites and scratches immediately with soap and running water;
- wash your hands after playing with cats;
- Avoid playing rough with pet cats;
- Do not allow cats to lick open wounds;
- avoid touching stray or stray cats;
- Treat cats to stop flea infestations.